Thought Reform 101

The Orwellian implications of today's college orientation.

(Page 4 of 5)

Skin Deep is a kid's cartoon, however, compared to Jane Elliott's Blue Eyed. Elliott has been lionized by the American media, including Oprah Winfrey, and she is widely employed by a growing number of universities. Disney plans to make a movie of her life.

Blue Eyed arose from Elliott's elementary school class in Riceville, Iowa, where, starting in 1968, she inflicted upon her dyslexic students an experience in which they were loathed or praised based upon their eye color. According to Elliott, she was ostracized for this experiment, her own children were beaten and abused, and her parents (who were racists, she informed a Dutch interviewer) were driven into isolation, bankruptcy, and despair because they had raised "a nigger lover" (one of her favorite terms).

In her modest explanation, once news of her exercise with the children made it onto national television, the people of Riceville feared that blacks across America would assume that everyone there was like Elliott and would move to their town. To punish her for that, they stopped buying from her father. Elliott also revealed to her Dutch interviewer that she abandoned teaching school in 1984 to devote herself full time to diversity education, for which she receives $6,000 per day from "companies and governmental institutions."

In Blue Eyed, masochistic adults accept Elliott's two-and-a-half-hour exercise in sadism (reduced to 90 minutes of film), designed to make white people understand what it is to be "a person of color" in America. To achieve this, she divides her group into stupid, lazy, shiftless, incompetent, and psychologically brutalized "blue eyes," on the one hand, and clever and empowered "brown eyes," on the other. Some of the sadism is central to the "game," but much is gratuitous, and it continues after the exercise has ended.

Elliott is unbearably tendentious and ignorant. To teach what an IQ test truly is, she gives the brown eyes half of the answers to an impossible test before the blue eyes enter the room, explaining that, for people of color, the IQ exam is "a test about which you know absolutely nothing." IQ tests only measure "white culture." They are a means of "reinforcing our position of power," and "we do this all the time in public, private, and parochial schools," using "culturally biased tests, textbooks, and pictures on the wall...for white people." (Fortunately for Elliott, it appears there were no Asian-Americans or psychometricians in her group.)

Elliott often describes the 1990s as if they were the 1920s; indeed, in her view, nothing has changed in America since the collapse of Reconstruction. Every day in the United States, she explains, white power keeps black males in their place by calling them "boy" (two syllables, hissed), "and we do it to accomplished black males over 70, and we get away with it." We tell blacks to assimilate, which means merely to "act white," but when they try that, we put them in their place and change the rules. For example (this in 1995), whites now are building up Colin Powell, but as soon as they build "this boy" up, they will kick him down. For Elliott, the Powell boom was a conscious conspiracy to humiliate and disorient blacks.

She teaches her "blueys" with relish that protest accomplishes nothing, because if blacks protest, "we kill them." It is not smart to speak up or act clever, which is why blacks appear passive and stupid. The lesson: "You have no power, absolutely no power. ...Quit trying." Blacks might try to "win" on the inside, but it is almost impossible to validate oneself when white society puts you down "all day, every day."

Even if a "bluey" understands the implications of the workshop, or even if a white woman understands male prejudice, it bears no real relationship to the daily suffering of every black: "You do not live in the same country as that [black] woman. You live in the USA, but you do not live in the same country as she does." Blacks such as Shelby Steele (singled out by name), who speak of transcending race, delude themselves, because one might transcend one's skin color but never society's behavior: "All you can do is sit there and take it." People call the exercise cruel, Elliott explains, but "I'm only doing this for one day to little white children. Society does this to children of color every day." She stands over briefly assertive "blueys" and humiliates them, explaining that if this makes you sick to your stomach for a few hours, now you understand why blacks die younger.

In short, this is America, and there truly is no hope. Nothing ever changes. No one can succeed by effort. Culture, society, and politics all are static. "White privilege" controls all agencies of power, influence, and image, and uses all the means that arise from these to render "people of color" psychologically impotent, confused, passive, and helpless. So either vent your hatred or assume your guilt.

There is no redemption except guilt, but there is a political moral. After "teaching" a "bluey" to submit totally to her authority, she asks if that was a good lesson. The workshop thinks it was. No, she says with venom, submission to tyranny is a terrible lesson, but "what I just did to him today Newt Gingrich is doing to you every day...and you are submitting to that, submitting to oppression."

The facilitators' guide and publicity for Blue Eyed states things honestly: Elliott "does not intellectualize highly emotionally charged or challenging topics...she uses participants' own emotions to make them feel discomfort, guilt, shame, embarrassment, and humiliation." Facilitators are urged to use the raw emotions of Blue Eyed (blueys do cry a lot) to tap the reactions of the viewers. They should not expect black participants to "bleed on the floor for whites," but they should get whites to "stretch" and "take risks." The facilitators should be prepared for very strong and painful emotions and memories from the participants. The ultimate goal of the film: "It is not enough for white people to stop abusing people of color. All U.S. people need a personal vision for ending racism and other oppressive ideologies within themselves."

Elliott does mean everyone. In 1996, she told her audience at Kansas State University that all whites are racists, whatever they believe about themselves: "If you want to see another racist, turn to the person on your right. Now look at the person on your left." She also believes that blacks were in America 600 years before whites. She told the students at Kansas State that if they were angry at her, they should write letters, but that they must do so without paper, alphabet, or numbers, all of which were invented by people of color. Whites, in Elliott's view, did have a certain creativity. Betraying a breathtaking ignorance of world history, she told the Australian Internet magazine Webfronds in 1998 that "white people invented racism." Other than that, however, whites were quite parasitic.

"You're all sitting here writing in a language [English] that white people didn't come up with," she told the magazine. "You're all sitting here writing on paper that white people didn't invent. Most of you are wearing clothes made out of cloth that white people didn't come up with. We stole those ideas from other people. If you're a Christian, you're believing in a philosophy that came to us from people of color."

Jane Elliott has lived through revolutionary cultural changes without taking note of any. She teaches only helplessness and despair to blacks and only blood-guilt and self-contempt to whites. She addresses no issue with intellectual seriousness or purpose. She also is the reigning star in thought reform these days. On May 7, 1999, CBS News ran a feature on her that declared: "For over 30 years, Jane Elliott has waged a one-woman campaign against racism in America." CBS might want to rethink the notion of "racism."

Even traditionalist campuses now permit the ideologues in their offices of student life to pursue individuals into the last inner refuge of free men and women and to turn students over to trainers who want them to change "within themselves." This is a return of in loco parentis, with a power unimagined in prior ages by the poor souls who only tried to keep men and women from sleeping with each other overnight. It is the university standing not simply in the place of parents but in the place of private conscience, identity, and belief.

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